Humbled Carleton Ravens look to regain glory at U Sports men's basketball championship

The Dalhousie Tigers lost to the Carleton Ravens in the 2020 U Sports Championship final and look for revenge, as CEBL talent shines across the Final 8 field.

Perennial powerhouse enters Final 8 as 7th seed after losing in OUA semifinals

Dalhousie's Keenan Veinot (11) returns to the U Sports tournament holding hopes of ending his university career with a championship. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

With the Carleton Ravens off their perch as top seed, the U Sports Final 8 men's basketball tournament is wide open for any team to win when play begins Friday in Edmonton.

Alongside the host Alberta Golden Bears, the Victoria Vikes, Saskatchewan Huskies, Brock Badgers, Queen's Gaels, Carleton Ravens, McGill Redbirds, and Dalhousie Tigers will be vying to capture the W.P. McGee Trophy as Canada's top men's team. 

After being the top seed in three of the last four tournaments, the Ravens enter this year's bracket as the seventh seed, with the Badgers sliding into top spot having captured the OUA's Wilson Cup Championship, the second in their program's history.

The tournament, which was cancelled last year because of the pandemic, runs through Sunday, streaming live on CBC Gem and CBC Sports' website.

McGill seeks to set a new standard in Final 8 return

As the only team from the Quebec-based RSEQ, the McGill Redbirds are looking to surprise when they hit the court in Edmonton. Despite winning their conference with a perfect 14-0 record, the Redbirds face doubts coming from what many see as a weaker conference. 

After long-time head coach David DeAveiro left for Ryerson, McGill turned to Ryan Thorne, who had led the women's team for 17 seasons. In his first year with the men's program, he is bringing them to their first Final 8 since 2018. 

"My biggest understanding as a coach this year was to make sure I don't just try to throw in just the things that I want to do, especially with some seniors who are in their last year," Thorne told CBC Sports. "I think the RSEQ is underestimated, and our job is to go out there and prove that we belong."

McGill enters the tournament with the lowest offensive numbers, averaging 74.3 points per game, and relying on veterans Sam Jenkins and Jamal Mayali to drive production. However, they will look to surprise, while setting a new standard for the school when they play the Alberta Golden Bears in the quarter-final. 

Dalhousie turn to Veinot in last ride

Keevan Veinot might be the best basketball player in U Sports, and will look to lead the Dalhousie Tigers to their first national championship after falling in the 2020 final to the Carleton Ravens.

The 23-year-old spent time with the Canadian Elite Basketball League's Hamilton Honey Badgers in 2021, after the club selected him fifth overall in the annual U Sports draft. The 2020 AUS MVP put up 19 points as Dalhousie came from behind to defeat UPEI 84-78 to win their third consecutive AUS title.

"We've won the last three years and so to win that three years in a row, especially after the year off last year, we're coming into the tournament with a high level of confidence," Veinot told CBC Sports.

"The confidence level is that we're the best team in Canada and we have to go win three more games to prove that."

Dalhousie takes on OUA finalist Queen's in their quarter-final matchup on Friday at 5 p.m. E.T 

Carleton Ravens take on an unfamiliar role

Could it play in the NCAA? Are they the best university basketball team in Canada? Those were once questions asked about the Carleton Ravens men's basketball program, which has captured 12 OUA championships and 15 U Sports titles since 2000. 

This year, however, the seventh-seeded Ravens come into the tournament as underdogs. They missed out on the OUA championship for the first time since 2006, losing in the semifinals to the Queen's Gaels.

Facing the Victoria Vikes in the quarter-final, the Ravens are still going to the national tournament with golden hopes, but they must travel a more arduous path. Despite their early exit in the OUA playoffs, 2020 U Sports rookie of the year Lloyd Pandi looks to lead them back to the national title.

Pandi, who played with the CEBL's Niagara River Lions in 2021, has averaged 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this season and will be critical if the Ravens are to make it past the Vikes and onto the medal rounds. 

Might they still be the best university team in Canada? It's very possible, but the Ravens will need to fight against the odds to regain that claim.

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